Wildlife managers in California, Colorado, Utah, Idaho, Oregon and Washington reported a tremendously record cold winter all over the US, that resulted in a large death toll in wild animal populations, including some previously endangered sheep.
Wyoming deer herd and endangered bighorn sheep in California were reported as some of the biggest victims of the winter that authorities are calling ‘killer’.
‘This year we kind of had all the factors that we don’t want – we had deep snow, we had periods of fairly cold weather, subzero, and then we also had some crusting on top of that snow,’ said Roger Phillips, spokesman for the Idaho Fish and Game Department.
The Daily Mail reports:
Wildlife managers have been assessing the damage using radio collars and surveys of herds following a winter in which many parts of the West recorded record snowfall, including places where deer, pronghorn antelope and elk migrate each fall to escape the harsher mountain winters.
Prolonged snow cover on winter grounds made it difficult for wildlife to find food, and spells of bitter cold made matters worse for the weakened animals by hardening the snow.
Mule deer in several Rocky Mountain states and elk in eastern Washington were hit hard.
Wyoming was expecting above-normal losses among antelope as well, although it didn’t have an accurate accounting yet.
Wyoming last saw comparable wildlife deaths over three decades ago, said Bob Lanka, supervisor of statewide wildlife and habitat management program with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.
‘It’s been a long, long time since we experienced this kind of loss,’ he said.
Meteorologist David Lipson of the National Weather Service in Riverton blamed the rough winter on ‘unusually strong rivers of moisture’ flowing into the West from the Pacific Ocean, where a weak and unusually short-lived La Nina occurred.
In California, the Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep, which is listed as an endangered species, lost an estimated 40 to 60 animals.
‘We’re not including any predation or normal mortality or any other kind of losses; that’s just from the snow, from getting trapped up in the snow and not having food, some of them starving and then some of them directly impacted by avalanches,’ said Jason Holley, supervising wildlife biologist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.